Summary: Pynoos R S Steinberg AM, and Aronson L. "Traumatic experiences: The early organization of memory in school-age children and adolescents," in Appelbaum PS, Uyehara LA, and Elin MR, Trauma and Memory: Clinical and Legal Controversies.272-289. New York, Oxford University Press. 1997.

Recent controversies about "repressed," "recovered," and "false" memories have diverted attention from the ways children cope with and remember traumatic events. Based on their research with traumatized children, the authors of this chapter discuss the complexity of traumatic experiences and their recollection. Developmental, biological, and social processes all have a role to play in how children process and remember trauma. These concepts are explained through the use of case studies and a review of relevant research.

During a traumatic event, a child copes with internal and external dangers. What's more, there are both objective experiences, like being trapped in an earthquake or wounded with a weapon, and subjective ones, such as the fear of death or guilt about actions during the trauma. In the aftermath, children do not remember the traumatic event as a single coherent episode. Instead, they reconstruct the event using certain features as anchor points for remembering. These details-the expression on an assailant's face or the smell of gunpowder, for example-are emphasized while others are completely omitted. In an effort to process the event, children will misrepresent the extent of the danger they were in and create what the authors refer to as "intervention fantasies." In these fantasies, traumatized children alter or interrupt the traumatic events, or find a safe way to retaliate against them.

An understanding of these concepts will help to inform the effective treatment of traumatized children and lead to a more informed debate about the nature of memory.